The Great Sucking Sound

That noise you hear? That is the wind being violently ripped from the 3DS’ sails.

It sounds a lot like three to five hour battery life, which, supposedly, is only when the backlight is turned down. We in the trade call this the Non-Nintendo handheld trap, because it’s what has doomed every handheld going against Nintendo since day one: no one wants a handheld console with no battery life. We want Nintendo’s weaker toys, because we can take them places and not be tethered to the wall.

No one expected Nintendo to fall into a trap with its name on it. Really. How fucking ludicrous is that? You’re a company who have made billions of dollars off of doing things one way, and then you decide, whoops, not good enough, let’s change it.

Of course, that’s big news, but coupled with the other news of the week, it’s a clear sign of something big: that Nintendo is punting on the 3DS for the year. No other way about it.

The other news, of course, is that there aren’t any games. Oh, there are games, of course. No games is hyperbole. But the games there are are sorely lacking. Sure, there’s Kid Icarus Uprising, and there’s Professor Layton and the Mask of Mirrors (which, to be fair, we have no idea how much the 3-D will factor into the gameplay). Everything else? Everything else falls into parody: there are remakes of Nintendo 64 games (something, need we remind you, that was possible on the DS; Super Mario 64 DS was a launch title, after all), shovelware, and updated DS games like the port of Devil Survivor. No unique third party game seems to be anywhere on the horizon; they all look to be either remakes or console experiences gutted and tossed onto the platform.

Basically, anyone who’s been around the block for console announcements knows what this means. No games? Not even first party games, except one that looks kind of mediocre? Lots of ports and shovelware? No new, unique content? Coupled with a poor battery life? Why, this thing must be being thrown out there to die.

Now, this is Nintendo, so that’s not the case. Here’s what’s happening, in my opinion: I imagine, given all the veiled talk about how they were considering 3-D going back generations of gaming, that there’s been a lot of money thrown at this whole 3-D thing by Nintendo. At this point, with a shit economy and a handheld in the DS that is losing steam after an admittedly historic run, you figure Nintendo thinks, A lot of rubes bought the Wii at launch, without any concrete promises of delivery. We can do the Same Thing Again, and we’ll make a boatload of money, and eventually, in a year and a half, when the games are actually beyond the drawing board, we’ll release the 3DS Lite, which will have a battery life and which everyone will want. We’ll sell two consoles a head, like we did with the DS.

It’s a fascinating marketing strategy, to be sure. I think, though, they got a little too Apple with it this time. In a lot of ways, this device is beginning to resemble the iPad: a device that, really, had no practical value at launch. Sure, the ‘Pad may have developed into something pretty cool, but when it launched it was basically like buying a big sports car that got 5 miles per gallon: a cool status symbol and nothing else. And here we are with Nintendo, trying to do the same thing with the 3DS

The problem is, Nintendo’s market position is different. Apple was competing with, literally, nothing. They were a completely untapped market: no one made a touch screen computer. No one with a marketing budget, anyway. It was a device different from both the iPhone and the netbook, which someone could buy because of its pure potential. The Wii, and even the DS, were similar devices, at launch. The Wii had the novelty factor behind it. I know I bought a Wii at launch because I wanted to play a game like Skyward Sword, with 1:1 sword motion controls, preferably one where I could be a Jedi. Nether of those games exist yet, though we’ve had some valiant attempts at the concept. The DS was the same: this was a device with serious fucking innovation behind it, and it could move on the strength of two screens. It just took three years for games to really begin to utilize its strengths.

The 3DS, I think, doesn’t have that. 3-D is cool, but it is not novel. The biggest movies are in 3-D. Sure, you want it in your home, and you’d love it to be without glasses, but is this enough to capture people’s imagination? I don’t think so, because while 3-D is no doubt a hip, cool technology, Nintendo, despite its best wishes, isn’t Apple, and 3-D isn’t something we’re imagining. I don’t meet a lot of people who say, This would be so much cooler in 3-D! Even if it would be cooler, no one’s thinking about that. They’re not because they’ve seen 3-D, and therefore it’s not necessarily novel. Results have already been achieved in this field; the only thing people will buy into is more results.

I mean, of course, none of this means shit. Nintendo’s going to sell millions of the thing, before they put out one classic non-remake for the system. But I’m not sure the system will have the continued success as their past items, because now they’re not in a market where they can move a system on pure potential. More and more people have iPhones, which function as mobile gaming platforms. They don’t need potential, they need results, and preferably results on the cheap. And I don’t know if Nintendo has that in them. Nintendo may be ignoring the cause of piracy: people aren’t pirating their games because they want them for free, they’re pirating their games because they don’t want to pay $40 for a specifically handheld experience, when they can get something that looks better on the iPhone for much less money.

That’s the real issue. They might be able to move a number of consoles based off of the 3-D gimmick, but can they compete with $10 fully featured titles on the iPhone, that look better than anything on the 3DS?